Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why Mens Groups?

I’ve been in groups of boys and men all my life and it’s likely you have too. Or, if not in them, around them. I’ve learned a lot from watching, interacting, ducking and avoiding, sometimes even leading. From classic books, like Lord of the Flies by William Golding or The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris through today’s books about masculinity and male archetypes, there is certainly more than one explanation or interpretation of male bonding behavior, male aggression, and male rites of passage.

And in the media, we have stories of heroic acts, feats of daring and, well, stupidity. There is a steady stream of stories on the BBN—a composite of many outlets that I call the Bad Behavior Network—that focuses a great deal on the criminality and dark side of men. The tender moments portrayed between people are usually reserved for the romantic genre and the genres that do include male camaraderie have it posed in the face of a very dark foe.

And so we are left with our own direct experience of men in groups—which may be limited—or the studies and conclusions, screenplays and books of others.

Another kind of men’s group has grown and evolved over the last decades of the 20th century and the first decades of this one. Somehow I was one of the lucky ones mentored into such a group while in my 20’s—with many unresolved questions about what it meant to be a man, questions still going unanswered for many of today’s young men. 

Little known and unheralded by the mainstream media, these thousands of groups around the world have been a quiet movement of men for the most part. Understandably so, as the whole point is to finally land in a place that is safe and sacred to be oneself; apart from old male scripts around performance, daring do, conquest and domination of others, “the game,” or the merry-go-round as John Lennon called it.

It’s a movement of men in living rooms, dens, community centers, churches, and outdoor camps sharing their authentic selves with one another. They bravely share the trials of growing up in isolation and confusion about expectations in relationship, the workplace, and the world—and the joys of self-discovery in one’s creativity and potential.  They challenge each other to learn about their own power to mold a life based on an inner compass instead of outer distorted images of male power, influence and, gratification.
These mens groups are places to build new friendships, new traditions, new histories—both personal and collective—that hold these truths to be self-evident:

Men are inherently good, from the time of our innocence as babies right up to the present, regardless of age, ethnicity, sexual preference, or any other category we can contrive. Men are givers, providers, protectors, lovers, and partners seeking to complete ourselves in a modern world that was offered in parts, some of them very broken. Boys and men have been systematically hurt, not by one particular group but by an entire system forcing them into roles that inevitably lead to conflict, abuse, war, self-destruction, and destruction of all kinds. Once given a choice, a real choice, men heal  (become whole) and then we realize what we were meant to be and in fact are: a beautiful physical manifestation and soul particle of the larger Source from which we came and to which we will return.

Within these groups we begin to respond to each other with that truth about us in mind. We give each other what pioneer humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard.” We give each other the fathering we might have gone without, the brothering we longed for, the love incarnate that is what we came here to be and express.

This movement then, gives birth to a new rite of passage for half of humanity. The implications for our species’ survival and evolution are profound. It’s here that I leave you with a letter written by a dear brother in this movement reflecting on the gifts of his experience, addressed to the men who have held him up to his own light long enough for him to see it too.

Dear Men,

I’d started to title my piece on the 20th annual North Coast Men’s Gathering “Thanks for the great Bar Mitzvah!”, and then Googled on Bar Mitzvah to make sure I had some understanding of what that really meant. I’m glad I did that, as I found some much deeper connections there than I had imagined. (

Apparently “Bar Mitzvah“ isn’t a party or ceremony, it’s something you become. Under Jewish law, a boy isn’t held accountable to the law until the age of 13, at which point he becomes a “Bar” (son) subject to “Mitzvah” (commandment.)
As soon as I read this I felt a jolt of recognition, because that’s what happened to me at the gathering.

My whole life I’ve struggled with authority, personal integrity and accountability. The pivotal crisis of that struggle came almost 40 years ago, when I found myself sitting in a jail cell contemplating indictment for a very serious felony. As I sat imagining the horrors of time in a state penitentiary, and taking solace in the thought that if it proved unbearable I could end my life, words formed in my mind to the effect that “You have come into this world with a purpose, and you will not leave it until that purpose is fulfilled.”

I had very mixed feelings about this revelation! On the one hand it was comforting to think that there was a purpose for my existence beyond simple biology, but it was also scary to think that something of which I had no conscious awareness was apparently driving my life.

Fortunately I was not directly involved with that crime and was released, and for both of those circumstances I give fervent thanks. I’m also thankful that the experience led me to take a hard look at my life, and began the long and arduous journey of discovering what its deeper purpose might be.

What the 20th annual North Coast Men’s Gathering brought me (more accurately, what all of you men brought me!) is a huge milestone on that journey, a far deeper experience and affirmation of my purpose than I’ve ever felt before. You showed me how that purpose leads me into the heart of my conflicts with authority, money, status, sex, and personal integrity; how those conflicts shape my passions, and how my passions demonstrate to me what my purpose is.

Through the Passion Test I discovered that my five great passions are:
1.    Finding peace and fulfillment in silence.
2.    Listening and speaking in deepest truth and compassion.
3.    Co-creating music, songs, dance, and stories in sacred space.
4.    Serving highest good with integrity, joy, and transparency.
5.    Enjoying loving, beautiful, respectful, passionate sex.

All but #5 showed up big time at the gathering, and as I surrendered into those passions I felt truly at one with my purpose for the first time in my life.
 When I saw the article on Bar Mitzvah, I realized that what I’d surrendered to is the true King within me, the wholeness that comes with the integration of love, authority, power, creativity, sexuality, wisdom, courage, service—all the things I’ve struggled with for so long thinking that they were in some way outside of me.

I see myself now as a (non-Jewish) Bar Mitzvah; a son who has surrendered to the commandment within me, the commandment to live fully my passions, and to willingly accept the blessings and hardships of living in this way.
You men are among the greatest of those blessings, and I give my deepest gratitude to you all.

Love, Bob

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Get The Lead Out! Men, Health and Passion

About three years ago I started experiencing strange physical symptoms: intermittent headaches, neck aches and nausea, sometime sore feet and hands. If I’d been a V8, I felt as though I was running on 6 cylinders.
The occasional luxurious nap was becoming mandatory to get through the day. Of course, it’s pretty easy for the mind to drift into worst-case scenarios. What was up with this?

As an otherwise healthy guy interested in fitness, activity, healthy diet, emotional and spiritual well being, I began a quest to discover the source of this malaise. I went to my dentist, my chiropractor, a holistic healer and eventually ended up at a clinic begun by a cardiologist whose practice had taken him to an area of medicine one might not generally associate with an MD. Through some tests I discovered I had what were considered toxic levels of mercury, lead and cadmium that were said to be affecting my thyroid’s optimal functioning. I was surprised to learn that everyone is born with half their mercury load unwillingly delivered by their mother. That meant it might take awhile for the other half to build up to a toxic level and then eventually into symptoms—some of which might mimic symptoms associated with other diseases.

Before these tests, thanks to Janet Bray Attwood, co-author of the best-selling book, The Passion Test, I was introduced to a team under the supervision of a chiropractor using advanced technology that assesses metabolic function. One of the tests I opted for is called “live blood analysis,” wherein a blood sample is put on a slide and viewed on a monitor. WOAH! I was amazed at what showed up. It was a veritable zoo of critters moving around and interacting with one another. Hard to tell if they were making love or war! Critical for me was the discovery of some clumping of red blood cells that made it more challenging for optimal blood circulation. Among other things, I was advised to participate in activities that turned fat to muscle. So, it was back to the gym for me after a somewhat lengthy hiatus.

Along with an hour or two of weight lifting a week combined with my already well formed and enjoyable habit of walking or bike riding, I began a course of treatment that included some light digestive cleansing and vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements that assist in the gathering and elimination of the heavy meals. Key to this program is perspiring every day to help flush out the metals. I’d decided against the IV’s that speed the process and have declined to use an infra-red sauna, both offered by the clinic. This was my experiment after all.

My chronic headaches became a thing of the past and the other symptoms have subsided as well. I’m pretty much back on all cylinders though I still feel there is room for improvement. And it’s time to go test my metal levels for that objective measure of progress. My doc at the clinic says most people that come to the clinic have toxic levels of these metals. Not a big surprise in a world of better living through chemistry where we receive repeated exposure to hundreds of compounds, most of which have names we can’t pronounce, and most of them containing elements better left out of our food, air, and water. Really, it’s a wonder many of us are functioning as well as we are.

You’ve probably gathered that health is in my top five passions. In other words, I enjoy reading about, learning about, and then experimenting with what I’ve learned. Actually, when I take The Passion Test, the way I state it is, “my life is ideal when I am enjoying vibrant health and abundant energy.” It’s not in everyone’s top five and it does not have to be. Still, people do need to realize it’s easier to enjoy what you are most passionate about when you’re healthy. And that does require some attention.
If health is a passion for you and you want to be part of an amazing event in person or online, the upcoming annual Passionate Life Summit in San Diego, CA September 21-23 may be for you. This year’s theme is Awaken the Healer Within. More than a half dozen world-acclaimed healers and practitioners will be presenting their methods, results, and services.
I’ll be there and I’d love to see you!

Find out more:
For more info on the metabolic assessment I spoke of you can go to Reflective Health  (Just so you know, no kick backs for me on this, just turning you on to great folks and service.)
Here’s a four-minute YouTube with my doctor introducing his work and holistic perspective. He has lengthier YouTubes, as well. I love that he emphasizes how much rest is overlooked in our vibrant health these days. I do still take naps!